Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Born Today June 13: Mary Wickes


Well known comedic character actress Mary Wickes was born Mary Isabella Wickenhauser in St. Louis, MO on this date into a well off family--her father a prominent banker in the city.  Her parents, ardent theater attendees, took her to plays being at a very early age.  This however did not encourage her to participate in acting until she graduated from college with double degrees at the age of 20 (neither degree was in theater).  She had planned to attend law school, but a professor, apparently seeing something of a comic in her, encouraged her to check out acting (drama) instead. She took it hardly! She soon made her stage debut and began acting on the summer circuit. She was encouraged to go further; so she moved herself to New York and was fortunate enough to gain a role in as a walk on in a major play starring Henry Fonda.  So, she made her Broadway premiere in 1934 in The Farmer Takes A Wife.  She made her film debut that same year in a little known comedy short by Ralph Staub: Art Trouble.  She appeared in another little comedic short the following year, Watch the Birdie, made by former Hal Roach protege Lloyd French.  But...both of these films clearly do NOT fall into the silent era of 1929 or before, so why is Wickes profiled here?  It is because her first appearance in a full length film came in Orson Welles' infamous 1938 late silent Too Much Johnson.  Aside from Welles himself, and Joseph Cotten, she is really the only cast member to go on to be a regular actor; to make a success of the profession.  She, of course, would go on to become one of the most recognizable straight comedic wisecrackers of the 20th century, both in film and in television.  Though she appeared in several well known films (Now, VoyagerWho Done It, June Bride), it was for her television appearances that she is most remembered and recognized.  She made her small screen debut early, in 1948 in two episodes of Actor's Studio.  Her list of show appearances is long and impressive (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Thin Man series, My Three Sons, I Spy, Columbo, Kolchak, The Waltons, Murder She Wrote, Punky Brewster, Father Dowling Mysteries, & three of Lucille Ball's series--and that barely scratches the surface). She also appeared in several well known comedy films later in life including both of Whoopie Goldberg's Sister Act films and Postcards From The Edge written by Carrie Fisher.  Wickes worked right up until her death on the 22nd of October of 1995, passing away from complications due to breast cancer.  Her last acting job was in voice-over work, occupying the role of "Grandma" in the animated series Life with Louie.  She is in interred with family at Shiloh Valley Cemetery in Shiloh, Illinois. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Born Today June 11: Virginia Brissac


Actress Virginia Alice Brissac, who was well known from the 1930's through the 1950's in matronly roles, was born today in San Jose, California.  She grew up in San Francisco where her father was a well known business executive in the insurance industry.  She is also cited in divorce proceedings (hers) in the 1920's as being the niece (on her mother's side??) of well known actress and famous suffragette Mary Shaw.  She made her stage debut in 1902 in her home town; she then became a successful actress of the stage on the west coast (mostly around the Bay area and later in Washington state, but also, she acted in Hawaii, where she met her second husband) throughout the aughts and teens and wound up appearing in two films in 1913.  While working in Hawaii, she met John Griffith Wray, a writer who had aspirations of getting into the film business.  There, she made two films whose complete productions were the work of Wray:  The Shark God and Hawaiian Love; both films were made for the World's Fair Stock Company.  After making these two shorts, she sailed back to California and resumed her work on the stage.  These two small curiosities would be the only films that she appeared in until 1935, when she came out of retirement from acting to play the role of Mrs. Van Twerp in Arthur Lubin's Honeymoon Limited.  This led to an unexpected later in life film and television career that she didn't expect, and even modest stardom.  She made her television debut in a 1951 episode of Stars Over Hollywood; she would go on to guest in several shows of note, including Dragnet and I Love Lucy.  She again retired from acting in 1955 after appearing the James Dean classic Rebel Without A Cause (as a horror fan, I can't help but mention that she also had a bit in the large cast that was Roy Del Ruth's Phantom Of The Rue Morgue in 1954).  At some point, she relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is where she passed away 25 years after her retirement on July 26th at the age of 96! She is interred in a family niche at Olivet Memorial Park (aka Mount Olivet Cemetery) in Colma, San Mateo, California.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Born Today June 10: William A. Seiter


Influential American director William Alfred Seitar was born on this date in New York City.  Sieter attended the Hudson River Military Academy and worked as an artist and writer before breaking into films as a stunt double (no doubt his time in the Academy had prepared him stunt work to a great degree).  It is often cited that he "broke" into films (which I suppose is an apropos way of describing a stunt actor) in 1915 going to work for Mack Sennett at Keystone Studios, but his film debut actually came in 1913 in the part of Joseph in the Selig Polyscope film The Three Wise Men.  His directorial debut is also given as a later date than the actual year that he took up directing. The year is usually given as 1918, however, he directed himself in the 1915 comedy short The Honeymoon Roll.  He also directed Gold-Bricking Cupid in 1915 as well.  His next directing job did come in 1918 on the film Oh! What A Day--where he used his writing skills, penning the entire scenario himself (the film was made for Jester).  He would go on to write a number of scripts to direct himself in 1918--most of his writing credits date from that year. After this point, he was a director in great demand. Over the course of his career, he racked up 150 directing credits-- and most of them films, but toward the end of his career, beginning in the mid-1950's, he was also in great demand to direct television episodes.  By the 1920's, he had considerable clout and was well known both inside and outside of Hollywood (enough to appear in the who's who about town short documentary Life In Hollywood No. 4 in 1927).  By this time, he had been working for Universal studios for a number of years; after 1925 he was also the director most closely associated with British born actor (and aviator) Reginald Denny.  In fact, his first official production credit came on a Denny film in 1926: Skinner's Dress Suit (he also directed several films starring actress Laura La Plante during this period of time).  His first sound film was the little known dramedy Waterfront in 1928 starring Dorothy Mackaill and Jack Mulhall, made for First National--it featured a musical score and sound effects (by Vitaphone) only.  His first full talkie came the next year with Smiling Irish Eyes starring Colleen Moore, who he had be directing in the series of partial silents.  Seiter's television debut came in 1955 in an episode of TV Reader's Digest. After this point, he never made another major motion picture.  His last directing job as the series director on Gale Storm's comedy show which premiered in 1956 and ran for 56 episodes through 1960.  Archive footage of his direction of Abbott & Costello appeared posthumously in The World of Abbott and Costello in 1965. By the time his career was over, he had directed the likes of: Barbara Stanwyck, John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Shirley Temple, Fred MacMurray. Roger Moore (that's right, James Bond), Ava Gardner, Raymond Burr...even the Marx Brothers, just to name a few. Not everyone enjoyed the experience; he had differences in directing Abbott & Costello and was called one of the stiffest directors ever, not seeing (pretty much ever) the usefulness of ad-libbing and improvisation.  Seiter retired in 1960 and died of a heart attack just four years later on the 26th of July in Beverly Hills.  He is interred with family members in Columbarium of Honor at Forest Lawn Memorial in Glendale, Ca.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Born Today June 9 (Not So Silent Edition): Cole Porter


Master American songster of the 1920's & 30's, Cole Porter was born on this day in Indiana.  Cole Albert Porter (his first name being his mother's maiden surname) was born to a wealthy family in Peru--his mother an heiress of sorts (the daughter of a coal baron) and a pharmacist father (who was also a "lay poet").  His mother was "over-attentive" and saw to it that her only surviving child got music training very early.  He reportedly had mastered the violin by the age of six.  His mastery of the instrument that became his life's companion and key to success--the piano--was said to have been more or less complete by the age of 8.  He was also said to have composed his first song by the age of 10.  [Note: all of this is a bit hard to pin down, because he mother would tell people that Cole was actually born in 1893--his small stature allowing easily for this--to make his talent seem...shall we say more Mozart like?] His rather loud, nouveau riche grandfather insisted that he study the law and become a lawyer, but he was a genuine talent, even genius lay in music; and his early exposure to it only heightened his love for it.  Though sent back east to study in a private high school with that career in mind, he took an upright piano (read "portable piano") with him to school, and soon found himself entertaining fellow students with the instrument.  Despite all of this, he did manage to graduate Valedictorian--he eventually wound up at Yale with, amongst other things, a minor in music.  This is where things began to take shape for him as a career path as a successful song writer and musical author became clearer.  He reportedly wrote something close to 300 songs while at the university.  It was also during this time that he became very enamored with the night life of busy New York City and it's vibrant theaters.  After obtaining his B.A. from Yale, he promptly enrolled in Harvard Law school; the year by this time was 1913 and he had already composed several musical comedy fancies that would become amongst his first recognizable works.  He was not, of course, cut out to be a lawyer and it was suggested to him that he enroll at the Music school instead.  He studied at Harvard in these two disciplines from 1913 through 1916.  In 1915 he made his Broadway debut; or rather one of his songs did: the tune being "Esmeralda."  He then piled head-long into his first full Broadway musical in 1916 See America First, modeled after Gilbert & Sullivan (sounds fun!), but the production was a complete failure.  Of course, the very next year, the U.S. entered World War I and this would ultimately provide Porter with the opportunity to spread his musical wings abroad and escape from family pressures at home.  I'm not going to try to untangle what might be his service during the war, I'll leave to historians, but he did wind up moving to Paris and after the war, the move afforded him the opportunity to study music in Paris.  He then began to find the success in Europe that would mark his passage through the 1920's.  He married a divorcee 8 years his senior who was aware that he was actually gay.  With the marriage came extravagance that is hard to comprehend, even from detailed description!  Throughout the 1920's the couple through wild parties and lived in palaces from France to Venice, and his success in popular song writing flourished, despite his wife attempting to steer him toward "classical music." Turns out, many of Porter's compositions dating from this time are actually early forms of symphonic jazz, so he does get compositional credit being an one it's inventors.  By the late 1920's, he was ready to return to Broadway.  And so he did in 1928 with a big success in Paris (read up on it here).  This brings me to the movies.  The following year, a film of the musical was produced by First National Picture and distributed by parent company Warner Brothers.  Paris the film starred Irène Bordoni, who was both the star of the Broadway production and married to E. Ray Goetz who commissioned the thing for her to begin with.  The film sported Vitaphone sound and two sequences in "two-strip" technicolor; despite all of this, it did not do well and didn't get particularly good reviews.  The two color sequences were set aside for the strongest criticism in several publications who complained (independent of each other) that they detracted from the story, were too long, and the color used was inferior to other musicals from the same year that had the same process applied to scenes (my, my (!) people do get spoiled quickly). [It is unfortunate that the film is lost to us (as of this writing); as it would provide at least entertaining quench for curiosity, not least which because it the first sound film of Bordoni's and her first film appearance since the teens.]  Also in 1929, the film Battle of Paris was produced by Paramount and directed by Robert Florey, and used several of his songs in the production; it marks the first time that a film used just his songs in featured sections of the film.  The next time his songs were used in such a capacity came in 1931 in 50 Million Frenchmen.  Porter continued to have wild success in the theater throughout all of the 1930's, right up to the start of World War II. However, a horrific horse riding accident in 1937 would leave him in life-long pain and effectively crippled.  This would go, along with the war, a long way toward contributing to his lack of productivity personally and his waning popularity publicly.  During the war, he spent time writing some absolutely brilliant film music directly for film productions, but the songs did not become individually popular the way his earlier works had. However in 1946, a dressed up and smart (but highly fictionalized) biopic of his life Night and Day starring Cary Grant and directed by Michael Curtiz was a big success, despite Grant's towering height next to Porter's. He also had a big hit with Kiss Me Kate in 1948The 1950's were not kind to Porter, who lost his mother and wife two years apart in 1952 and 1954 (neverminding his sexual orientation, he had been devoted to his wife throughout their marriage).  He then lost one of his legs in 1958 and despite his good friend Noël Coward's prediction that the amputation would relieve his extreme pain and thus facilitate his return to song writing, it was not meant to be.  He lived the rest of his life as a recluse in his three residences, seeing only the closest of friends.  Porter eventually succumbed to kidney failure at the age of 73 on the 15th of October in Santa Monica, California.  He was buried in Peru, Indiana in the family plot at Mount Hope Cemetery (his wife, parents and grandfather are all buried there as well).  He remains one of the 20th century's most prolific "near-classical" song writers; and to date some 800+ films and series have featured his music.  The most recent credit comes from the Brazilian series Apocalipse (with announced title Darker Than You Think slated to featured two of his songs, one of which is "Night and Day").  

An interesting bit from NPR Music

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Born Today June 7: Max Kretzer

Kretzer in 1897


German writer Max Kretzer was born on this day in Posen, Prussia (now Poznan, Poland) to what was then a marginally middle class family. By the time Kretzer was 13, the family had become deeply impoverished and moved to Berlin; forced to leave school he became a factory worker for the next 12 years of his young life.  This left an indelible mark on Kretzer's mind.  He suffered an injury in an accident, and despite his lack of formal education, he began to write around 1879.  He started off producing short stories in a style that would become known as "social realism," but graduated to writing novels, the main characters of which were often the urban working types that he had encountered in the ever growing industrialism of Berlin. He also wrote novels in what has been labeled "Christian socialism"--the basic tenants of which is that Christ would fight the onslaught of modernism--what Kretzer thought was degeneration due to industrialism.  This way of philosophising about the "end" of the industrial revolution wouldn't
have seemed it at the time, but eventually would lead to some of the basic claims and tenants of national socialism--or Nazism--in Germany.  In fact, by the early 1930's Kretzer was an open, if not enthusiastic, supporter of the Nazis and would remain so for the rest of his life (about 10 years). Also during his lifetime, he would see his work made into four films, the first of which was Das Armband in 1918, released in January during the last year of World War I.  In fact, despite that the war would not end until the middle of November, three of the four above mentioned films based on his work were released in 1918.  The other two films are: Die Buchhalterin and Die Kunst zum Heiraten. The only film made of his work (so far) in any other language than German came in 1925 with The Man Without A Conscience a Warner production here in the U.S. directed by James Flood, starring June Marlowe and Irene Rich and based on one of his short stories.  The only other film to be produced from his work (again, to date) was the 1980 West German made for television film Meister Timpe based on his most successful novel.  Ketzer died in the throes of World War II in Berlin on the 15th of July, 1941 at the age of 87. He is buried in a huge family plot in Berlin's Luisenfriedhof II (or Westend Cemetery) listed under his name.

[Wikipedia-German entry]

Wikipedia (includes a near complete list of works)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Born Today June 6: George Hollister Jr.


George (and his sister Doris) was born surrounded by film fame, despite the industry's young age.  He was the son cinematographer George K. Hollister and his actress wife Alice.  Both George Jr. and Doris were born in New York City and were amongst the first recognizable child actors in film. Young George first appeared in film 1912 in the Sidney Olcott, shot on location, middle eastern themed drama An Arabian Tragedy (filmed in Egypt).  He was just 4 years old.  He also appeared in the epic Olcott directed relatively unsung masterpiece  From The Manger To The Cross; or, Jesus Of Nazareth, also released in 1912 and shot on location; where he played Jesus as a young child (his parents and his sister were also involved with the production in a big way!).  Between the ages of 4 and 7, he appeared in 12 films--most of them in 1912 and 1913.  A goodly number of them featured his mother, and all of them were for Kalem, who had his mother under contract as an actor and his father was the principle director of photography.  The last film that he made at the company as a child was the Kenean Buel directed melodrama The Swindler in 1915, which starred Guy Coombs and Alice Joyce.  Hollister appeared in just one film as an adult, a late silent in 1929 at the age of 21: The Arizona Kid.  This is all his work as it related to the film business.  Hollister lived until the age of 67, dying on the 22nd of January, 1976 in San Diego (outliving his mother Alice by just three years).  Both of his parents and his sister are interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, but even a search a cemetery records there don't reveal whether he too was also laid to rest there.  [Note: if you read the comment below, his granddaughter was so kind as to let me know that he is not buried with family member in Glendale; unfortunately, she states that his burial place is not known at this time; let's hope that is a temporary thing! 😇]

Most of the principle cast of From The Manger to The Cross aboard ship en route to the Holy Land, George Jr. is in the middle of the photograph; his sister Doris is the other child. Both of his parents as also pictured. 


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Born Today June 5: Richard J. Jose


Often listed as an "American countertenor," Richard J. Jose was in fact a British operatic singer born in Lanner, Cornwall (his name rhymes with "rose" and was originally "Joce"--which is a traditional Cornish name [reminder: Cornwall is a Celtic enclave of England--it is as Celtic as Wales]).  He apparently followed an uncle to the U.S., settling in Nevada and singing in saloons. He eventually joined minstrel shows which wound up taking him to California. By this time (the 1890's) he was becoming a well known operatic singer in the U.S. and made a number of recordings via the new technology of phonograph cylinders. By the turn of the century he was an early signee of the music company Victor.  His version of "Silver Threads Among the Gold" was a big hit for him and the company.  It was this song that led to his only appearance in a film, which came in 1915. The film was titled the same as the song and was a curiosity to say the least.  The poster boasted the gimmick of the film's promotion, "Richard J. Jose (Appears In Person)."  Jose actually toured with the film, singing the song in the appropriate places during the film's screening; Jose also starred as Martin in the film itself (IMDb link, and the film should not be confused with the 1911 film of the same name produced by the Edison Co & directed by their man Porter). The film was the brain child of the K & R Film Company--a one off sort of affair.  Unfortunately the film is lost; it's one of those great loses in the film world from the silent era--not because the film would likely be some long lost masterpiece, but because it was so oddly unique.  This is Jose's only film appearance; he soon retired completely from the entertainment industry and settled permanently in California.  There he embarked on a second career as California Deputy Real Estate Commissioner.  Jose died in San Francisco at the age of 79 on 20 October 1941.  He is buried in the Olivet Memorial Park (then Mount Olivet Cemetery) in Colma, Ca--just outside of CA. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Born Today June 3: Al Liguori


Early, relatively unknown cinematographer Al Liguori was born on this day in Salerno, Italy.  Very little is known about either his early or later life. What is known, is that the first film he is credited with photographing is Sidney Olcott's The Innocent Lie in 1916, where he was credited as Alfonso Ligouri at Famous Players (the film was shot on location in Bermuda).  When he is discussed, for some reason, his name is associated almost exclusively with the Famous Players Film Co.--which is odd, because as of 1918, he had moved on to other production houses, starting with The Grain of Dust, directed by Harry Revier for Ogden Pictures. In all he is credited with 19 films as a cinematographer, but there well could be more that have not been properly recorded (if his one lone writing credit is anything to go by).  His years active spanned between 1916 to 1927. Very few of the films that he shot had any extremely famous actors in them; though he did work with Alice Brady, Matt Moore, Conrad Nagel and Lionel Barrymore.  By 1925, he was back at Famous Players (by then Famous Players-Lasky) and Sidney Olcott. He photographed Salome of the Tenements for him starring Dutch Jewish actress Jetta Goudal. The last film that he photographed was considered a "nothing" at the time of it's release, but has come down to us as a very important piece of cinema from the silent era.  The Scar Of Shame (1927) is an all black production (well, except for the Italians working on the film, which included the director Frank Peregini) made for the Colored Players Film Corp. released into the segregated film houses of Jim Crow.  Liguori does not have any other cinematographer credits after this film, but does have a curious credit for writing dating from 1936. He is credited as one of 4 writers on the Mexican picture María Elena. After this, there are no more film credits for him under any category.  He is listed as having died at the age of 64 in Overbrook Hills, Pennsylvania on the 8th of May, 1951.  A search of grave records yeilds no results on burial. What remains of his work, is often described as "noirish" in nature--ahead of its time.